HISTORY OF THE PARISH CHURCH
The Parish Church of St. John the Baptist is also fondly known as St. John’s or as “The Old Church.” It is a living parish where the living God is worshipped.
Founded in the 12th Century as the ancient Parish Church of Erith, it is a Grade 11* listed building, full of interesting architectural features and tombs and we are very proud of our links to the past and to the generations of Christians who have worshipped at St. John’s.
The main body of the church - At present, the main body of the Church can accommodate approximately 200 worshippers. The south west corner of the Church has been made into a social area with facilities for serving refreshments after services.
Wheatley Chapel - Also known as the Lady Chapel it is in the south-east corner of the Church. The Wheatley family used to be the Lords of the Manor of Erith. Contained within the Chapel is a fine monument to the Countess of Shrewsbury. The Wheatley Chapel is used by the younger groups of “Young Church” members during services.
Bell Tower - The tower contains eight bells, the oldest of which dates from 1703. Internal features of the building include monuments and memorials to various local families and dignitaries associated with the parish of Erith through the ages.
The Churchyard – At the east end of the churchyard provision exists for the interment of ashes of the deceased however, the Churchyard itself has been closed for burials for many years, by order in Council. The grounds of the churchyard are maintained by Bexley London Borough. The PCC is responsible for the maintenance of the boundary wall, except for that length which forms the boundary with the A2016 dual carriageway.
Vestry - A rearrangement of the original vestry provides space for a “Sunday School” for the teaching of the older children who are at secondary school (Revelation Group).
12th Century – St John’s was founded
13th Century - It is believed that on November 19 1215, King John’s commissioners met the Barons with whom he was at war at the “Church of Erith” in order to seek a way in which to bring into effect the clauses of Magna Carta which had been signed in June of that year. It would be nice to think that this was the case, but although there is documentary evidence to suggest that certainly the possibility was discussed; there are no records which show that the meeting ever took place. A copy of the document which does exist is held at the Local Study Centre at Bexleyheath Central Library.
13th - 14th Century - The south aisle and tower were built
19th Century - The coming of the railways in the mid nineteenth century, led to population expansion and growth in industry in the area. The character of the Parish changed from being predominantly rural, with associated housing and attendant riverside activities in Erith town some one mile distant, to that of an industrial area. To cope with the population increase, the Church was enlarged with the addition of the north aisle in 1877
Early 1900s - The growth in industry accelerated particularly at the time of World War 1 and although industry declined in the latter part of the century, there are still large industrial/business premises within the Parish, particularly in the North West and Fraser Road areas.
1930 – 1960 - The building suffered damage due to enemy action during World War II and was extensively restored between 1947-52, when the organ was rebuilt and moved to its present position.
1970s - Public address system was installed
2005 - Public address system was upgraded and a hearing loop and an audio-visual facility provided
1990 - 2000 - A new gas-fired boiler was installed and the heating system upgraded in 2000. A toilet (with disabled and baby changing facilities) was installed in 1997.